Before Homestead High School Orchestra Director John Emanuelson, 67 bows drew in unison the final two notes of Ernest Bloch's "Fugue," one long draw and one short, a last blast of punctuation.
Behind him, the applause was rising. When Emanuelson turned, a roughly 2,000-strong crowd was rising across Carnegie Hall in a standing ovation for the collection of Homestead and Shorewood high school students onstage.
"The challenge was, and always is with music, trying to find that emotional content of the music, and using music as a gateway to sharing feelings and emotions and some deeper meaning," Emanuelson says. "The standing ovation was the affirmation for the kids that we clearly made that connection."
"As I left the stage, I tried
to imprint the view of Carnegie
Hall in my mind." -Shorewood senior
To many musicians, Carnegie Hall represents a sort of shining island in the distance, a place where they can see the biggest names on the marquee and dream to see their own. As Shorewood Orchestra Director Karen Frink says, "anyone who's anyone" has performed there, wants to perform there, or will perform there.
So, needless to say, when the combined Homestead and Shorewood orchestra auditioned and won the chance to perform their own Carnegie Hall show in February, it was a pretty big deal in Frink's estimation.
"It's really unique for schools to work together like this, and it was a lot of fun for the kids," Frink says. "It was thrilling, and we worked really hard."
The road to Carnegie
The work began in earnest at the beginning of the school year when the Homestead and Shorewood orchestras began performing the Carnegie set separately at their respective high schools. In the third week of the school year, the group of 66 students met for the first time for a special rehearsal in Shorewood.
"Our final bows felt so amazing.
It was so empowering to know
that we just performed at Carnegie!"
-Homestead junior Kailey Mortl
By November and December the separate orchestras were performing songs from the Carnegie set in school concerts, getting a feel for the music. January marked the beginning of joint rehearsals, several-hours-long sessions facilitated by Milwaukee-area clinicians, as well as Emanuelson and Frink, who in addition to leading the two orchestras separately were the husband and wife duo driving the combined performances.
An early-February sendoff concert at the Schlitz Audobon Center in Bayside was the combined group's final show before the long bus ride to New York City and the famed Carnegie Hall.
The students took in the NYC sights on the trip, touring the Lincoln Center of the Arts, Museum of Modern Art, the Rockefeller Center, and Broadway, but for many the Carnegie Hall performance was the highlight.
From their first rehearsal on the main stage, the unique acoustics of the Carnegie main stage caught many of the students — and even Emanuelson and Frink — off guard.
|"Getting to know new kids with shared interests was fantastic!" -Homestead senior Alden Laev|
Emanuelson says that the main stage was built first and foremost as a concert hall, and it shows. Sound carries and hangs in the air, but remains layered instead of blending together and becoming muddled. The music remains pure, but with a warm and "heavenly" sound, Frink says. The duo experienced the sound from both the conductor's podium and the stage floor, as each spent half the performance conducting and half playing with the students.
"It was remarkable, breathtaking," added Emanuelson. "(The acoustics) were something the kids locked on to, fixated on, still are talking about."
Perhaps more impressive than the stage were the students themselves, who in the span of a school year went from meeting and performing for the first time together, to playing on one of music's biggest stages.
|"It was a great experience." -Shorewood sophomore Grace Reckmeyer|
"Most of the students came away knowing it was the best they had ever performed," Frink says. "Because they were so focused I think they learned a lot about what you can achieve."
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